Painting with muses dancing in round dance in flowing dresses and braided hair.

The Afterlife of the Muse. Balzac, Henry James, Fontane

Muses are considered to be the antique precondition of storytelling. The fact that they lead an afterlife in the novels of Balzac, Henry James, and Fontane highlights their poetological importance for Modernity. The project examined novels that are committed to the modern storytelling paradigm of realistic mimesis and yet place a muse at the center of the diegesis. With reference to Aby Warburg’s concept of the afterlife of Antiquity and Blumenberg’s theory of the novel, the project analyzes the extent to which the muses retain their poetic significance beyond reinforcing the author’s personality and to what extent they have remained virulent (???) in modern prose—perhaps a first answer to the question for the origin of literary productivity. Individual analyses reveal processes of transformation that the antique goddesses of the arts experience on their long path towards Modernity. They also explore the poetological importance of muses, both for the respective novel as well as for the realist storytelling repertoire of the 19th century. Thus, the study shows the ways in which the muse contributes its poietic potential to the modern text and thus proves to be a focal point of the poetics of the novel.


Fig. above: Giulio Romano: The Apollon Dance with the Muses (approx. 540), Source: Wikimedia Commons, The Yorck Project (2002) 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei (DVD-ROM), distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH

Program funding through the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) 2019
Head researcher(s): Annalisa Fischer


Annalisa Fischer

Das Nachleben der Muse
Balzac – Henry James – Fontane

Periplous, Münchener Studien zur Literaturwissenschaft
Wilhelm Fink, Leiden 2020, 286 pages
ISBN 978-3-7705-6500-9 (Print); 978-3-8467-6500-5 (PDF)